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NCS football playoffs: Piner win sets up showdown with Cardinal Newman

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MILL VALLEY — With some help from scores on special teams and on defense, the Piner High School football team won its first-round playoff game Saturday afternoon, withstanding a comeback by host Tamalpais High School in a 41-36 win.

The fifth-seeded Prospectors (10-1) came into the North Coast Section Division 4 playoffs fired up and looking to bounce back strong from their 31-27 loss to Santa Rosa that marred their perfect season and cost them the NBL-Redwood Division title.

“I think they responded well. That’s what a competitor is supposed to do, you’re supposed to bounce back. You can’t let a loss derail you and I think that’s what they showed. And I like the fact that this game was close, and they proved they can battle it out in the postseason,” Piner head coach Terence Bell said.

All season, a majority of Piner’s success has come from the connection between senior quarterback Yonaton Isack and junior receiver Isaac Torres. The Prospectors put up crazy numbers, and now Isack holds the North Bay record for most touchdown passes with 48, and 21 of those have gone to Torres, which is also the most ever in the North Bay.

“They’re special. I think Yonaton does a good job of taking what the defense gives him. We didn’t really force the ball to Isaac today. When they leave him open, we throw it to him and when they don’t, we can score other ways,” Bell said.

That’s what the Prospectors did Saturday, setting up a semifinal showdown with perennial power Cardinal Newman on Friday.

Despite Piner having the better overall record, the Red-Tailed Hawks (7-4) entered the playoff as the No. 4 seed.

Saturday’s game came down to the final seconds as the Hawks mounted a late comeback but ultimately Piner was able to get a couple first downs to wind down the clock and seal a victory.

After a couple short completions to start the game, Piner’s Isack found Torres for a 30-yard completion to put the offense in enemy territory. The Prospectors finished off their first drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Michael Collins to take an early 7-0 lead.

Early in the quarter, after Piner’s defense forced a three-and-out, a botched snap on the Hawks’ punt led to the Prospectors’ Adonis Gutierrez scooping up the ball and running for the short return touchdown.

Later in the quarter, a good Tamalpais’ punt backed Piner up against their own end zone, and the Hawks were able to force a safety.

At the end of the first quarter, a short punt gave the Prospectors the ball in Tamalpais’ territory and on the first play Isack threw a 40-yard touchdown to Adrian Torres.

Early in the second quarter the Hawks took over following a turnover on downs on Piner’s 35-yard line, and on their second play Aidan Newell competed a long touchdown pass to Ben Reade.

The Prospectors led 21-9 at halftime.

The Hawks opened the second half with a scoring drive as Newell found Jack Ehlermann for a 32-yard touchdown. But Piner answered on the ensuing kickoff, as Adrian Torres returned it 88 yards for a touchdown.

Two plays later, Tamalpais’ offense fumbled the ball and Sumail Berhe returned it 25 yards for a score. The Prospectors led 35-16.

The Hawks responded with a quick drive and scored on a 17-yard touchdown pass to Samuel Reade.

On the next possession for Piner, a couple long screens to Jake Herman put the Prospectors back in scoring position and they took advantage with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Herman, increasing the lead to 41-23 heading into the fourth quarter.

A late Tamalpais comeback attempt saw two touchdowns reduce the Prospectors lead to 41-36 with just over five minutes remaining. But Piner’s offense was able to get a couple first downs and hold onto the win.

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